California’s Right to Set Mileage Rules Being Restored by Biden

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California’s power to set tougher gas mileage rules for cars to limit pollution will be restored as part of moves by the Biden administration that reverse Trump-era policies.

The U.S. Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Thursday it plans to rescind portions of a 2019 Trump administration rule that sought to preempt California and other states from issuing their own limits on greenhouse gas emissions, including zero emissions vehicle mandates. California’s policies are followed by 13 other states and the District of Columbia.

The Trump policy would have undone California’s Advanced Clean Car Rule, which calls for automakers to reduce pollution from new cars from 2012 model year levels by 40% by 2025. NHTSA said in a release Thursday that it would seek to block parts of the rule and establish “a clean slate” to further the Biden administration’s fuel economy, equity, and climate change priorities.

“We know transportation emissions are the largest portion of emissions that we need to address,” Steven Cliff, acting NHTSA administrator and formerly with the California Air Resources Board, told reporters on a call. “This proposes to remove one of the most significant barriers to states addressing climate change.”

Read More: Biden to Restore California’s Power to Limit Auto Emissions

The Biden administration is planning to propose new national mileage rules in July, the agency said. Separately, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon propose restoring a waiver empowering California to mandate zero-emission vehicles and regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle tailpipes.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg Television on David Westin’s Balance of Power that the U.S. “can’t let down our guard down on fuel emissions standards.” He indicated that more proposals would be coming pursuant to Biden’s Day 1 order to look at the rules and regulations inherited from former President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Clean Air Act allows California to set emissions standards that are more stringent than federal requirements. The provision allows states that had been setting their own levels prior to 1966 to receive a waiver from the EPA from rules that preempt states from enacting emission standards for new vehicles. States representing more than a third of the U.S. auto market now have formally opted to follow California’s rules.

The federal government and California battled over auto emissions throughout Trump’s one-term presidency.

The Trump administration announced in 2017 its intention to ease stringent gas-mileage rules passed under former President Barack Obama that would have required fleets to average nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025. Trump’s agencies proposed a freeze in the mandate after 2020, before later relenting slightly with a proposal to increase mileage rates by 1.5% annually, in addition to moving to revoke California’s emissions waiver.

Leaders in California, which helped craft the Obama-era rules, sued over the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the more stringent fuel economy rules. The state also sued over the plan to revoke its Clean Air Act emissions waiver.

Automakers have advocated for a uniform set of rules agreed on by the federal government and California, so that they’re not making cars to different standards for U.S. consumers.

“Every time that we’ve challenged the American auto industry to do this they’ve risen to that challenge,” Buttigieg told Bloomberg Television regarding tougher fuel mileage standards. “But it doesn’t just happen on its own.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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